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The life of Henry VIII was recent history for Shakespeare and stereotypes we associate with Henry VIII today, like chowing down on a turkey leg, for example, weren’t in existence for Shakespeare’s lifetime. Shakespeare helps us understand the early 17th century opinion of Henry VIII tremendously with his play all about King Henry and his famous cast of characters including Anne Boleyn and Cardinal Wolsey. Shakespeare’s version of Henry VIII’s life is called All is True by contemporary accounts of the play, being given the title Henry VIII for the publication of the First Folio in 1623.  Ironically, it was during a performance of All is True that a canon fire being used as special effects burned down the Globe theater in 1613. Here today to help us understand what the stereotypes were for Shakespeare, was politics or propaganda were at play in the writing of All is True, and to share the real story of the actual Henry VIII as he would have been known during the life of William Shakespeare is our guest and historian, Kat Marchant. 

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Katrina Marchant earned her PhD in early modern literature and culture from the University of Sussex in 2015. She is the creator of the YouTube channel “Reading the Past”. Every week she researches, writes, films, edits, uploads and promotes historical education content to the channel. The channel explores, among other things, biographies (particularly relating to women’s history), significant moments in our past and material and textual history. “Reading the Past” has 119,000+ subscribers, 11.1 million total views and 2.6 million hours of watch time. She has worked as an educator and historic interpreter, as well as an expert contributor on multiple history documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4.

Learn More about Kat Marchant

I’ll be asking Kat Marchant about:

  • It seems intentional that Shakespeare’s play about Henry VIII was not performed until after Elizabeth I’s death in 1603. Was it safer, politically, to perform this play after Elizabeth was gone? 
  • Shakespeare usually has his finger on the pulse of contemporary interest with the subjects he writes about, which makes me wonder if Henry VIII was something of a pop culture icon for Jacobean England. What was the opinion of Henry VIII and his story with Anne Boleyn culturally for Jacobean England? 
  • At a banquet thrown by Wolsey, the King and his attendants enter in disguise as masquers, and The King dances with Anne Bullen. Do we know if Henry VIII actually did dress up in disguise for events, and is that how he met Anne Boleyn in real life, at a party?  
  • …and more!

Edward Hall’s Chronicle

Raphael Hollinshed’s Chronicle

The State Papers for Henry’s reign

History of Tewskbury Mustard

An anecdotal tale about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was that they supposedly enjoyed Tewksbury Mustard. Explore the history of this famous condiment that was fit for a Queen and his Queen with our guest, Robin Ritchie.

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Here’s what inside this episode’s Detailed Show Notes:

  • Painting of the Tudors from 1590
  • Illustration of Henry VIII with a harp, c 1530
  • Portrait of Anne Boleyn painted around the time Shakespeare wrote All is True
  • Portrait of Anne Boleyn from 1545
  • Title page of Henry VIII, c. 1632
  • Hand illustrated woodcut of Henry VIII on horseback, c. 1570s
  • Edward VI’s “devise for the succession”, 1553
  • Portrait of Thomas Cranmer and his trial/execution
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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time!